How to choose whether to go with glass or ceramic for mosaic? Mosaic artists have used just about any material for mosaics: ceramic tile, glass tile, stone, shells, found objects, broken crockery, wood, metal. And in mixed media mosaics, anything goes, with delightful results. However, if you are choosing mosaic material for an outdoor art piece in a frost prone climate your choices start to narrow and both ceramic tile and glass tile can stand up to freezing if they are chosen carefully.
Is glass tile more colorful than ceramic tile? Yes! the array of color available in stained glass sheets is dizzying and marvelous. Most metropolitan areas have stained glass retailers so glass is easier to source in general. Ceramic tile is available in a wide range of brilliant colors as well but is not nearly as nuanced in the variety available of any one color. Daltile makes a colorful line. McIntyre does as well. Heath Ceramics in Marin county has rich color. Since most consumers don’t tile their kitchen or bathrooms or floor with bright yellow, red, and orange, the retailers don’t stock these colors and they must be obtained by special order. To obtain brilliant colored ceramic tile can take up to 8 weeks lead time for the manufacturer to custom make the order and ship it. Also the cost is higher as there are often one-case (12 square feet per case) minimums per color. If I am designing a mosaic mural with many colors I would have to order a case of the colors of which I need a small amount.
Reflection & Glassy Shine & Iridescence
Ceramic tile with a virtuous glaze will have a shiny reflective look to it. Vitreous meaning glass. However, most ceramic tile will not look as shiny as glass. Matt ceramic tile is deliberately manufactured to achieve a less slippery surface when used in bathrooms and other flooring. Glass tile by definition will have a lot of reflectiveness and look aglow in certain angles and less shiny in others, giving it a dynamic changeability that is expected of glass tile. Some ceramic tile is available with an iridescent sheen but stained glass and other glass shapes can come with stunningly beautiful iridescent coatings. Your personal aesthetic and the purpose of the mosaic will determine the degree of shine, glassiness, reflection, and friction that you want/need for the project.
Is it easier to cut shape glass vs ceramic tile? Ceramic tile is usually twice as thick as glass used for mosaic. Most commercial ceramic tile used for mosaic is approximately 1/4 inches thick and most stained glass used for mosaic is 1/8th ” thick. Any thicker and they are prohibitive to cut and shape with reasonable ease. It is physically easier to cut glass than ceramic tile. However, to shape either ceramic or glass tile with precision takes skill and experience. Still, glass faster to shape & cut.
There are many types of glass tesserae used for mosaic, pre-shaped pieces in circles, triangles, rectangles, teardrops, & etc. These come in thicknesses from 2mm to 7mm approximately. Most glass mosaic is made of glass pieces 3mm or 1/8th” thick. Glass tile is generally physically easier to cut and shape than ceramic tile. If you want to shape glass tiles precisely it is easiest to use stained glass. Stained glass comes in large sheets that can be cut into smaller and more precise shapes to do their duty in your mosaic art.
Mosaic Weight or Load on Architectural Support – Another consideration when choosing between ceramic tile and glass tile for mosaic is that the thinner glass will weigh less per square foot than the ceramic tile.
What is the purpose of the mosaic? Backsplashes, walls, murals, fine art mosaics, all these don’t have to withstand people walking on them, so they can be made of thinner and less durable tile. But for floor mosaics ceramic tile is the more durable choice. Ceramic tile that is high fired (harder) is necessary when creating floor mosaics due to the loads floors must support as we use them in daily life. Often higher fired ceramic tile has less vibrant colors are available at that higher kiln temperature. A high gloss finish is usually not desired as it also means less friction and a more slippery floor. So a more matte finish is desirable in floor mosaics that use ceramic tile. Ceramic tile can be manufactured with added grittiness to reduce risk of slipping. All these factors can combine to make the color and texture choices for ceramic tile for floor applications less vibrant and less reflective. That being said, I have seen spectacularly beautiful floor mosaics made with small glass squares called virtuous glass tile usually 3/4″ x 3/4″ x 3mm. The smaller shapes are less likely to break under normal load than longer pieces of glass. Insets of glass tile such as medallions or other shapes can add beauty to a floor without rendering the entire surface in glass and retaining the strength of ceramic tile for the rest of the floor.
What tile to choose for community built mosaics? Ceramic tile is the winner here, allowing individuals to shape, texture, and glaze individual tiles that can then be incorporated into a unified whole community mosaic art piece. The image below shows a ceramic tile mosaic mural incorporating handmade tile from hundreds of students & staff at a K-8 school. Each student created one tile. The second graders created the poppies, the kindergartner’s and several older grades created the oak leaves, & etc. Groups of students worked together to created the larger creatures like the hawk and deer.
Glass is used in community art mosaic projects as well by allowing individuals to piece their own small mosaic to be incorporated into the mosaic mural or allowing groups to piece mosaic together. The difference I see is that shaping clay and coloring it with underglaze and glaze is usually an easier & more intuitive creative process when involving inexperienced participants in a community built mosaic mural. Handmade ceramics allow more line work and nuance and colors on each individual piece than pieced mosaic with glass tesserae. The image below shows stained glass mosaic marine creatures each pieced by a family group or a staff member from the school. This image shows vitreous glass squares in the background of the mosaic in white and blue.
These are only some of the practical considerations in choosing between glass and ceramic tile for mosaic. There is no clear choice as it depends on your specific project’s practical needs and your aesthetic. Happy creating.